By Erik Koglin

The water treatment industry is booming. You may be considering growing your business to keep up with the demand, but where do you find good recruits? With unemployment rates at record lows, many dealers and service groups are struggling to meet their recruitment needs with talented, dedicated individuals. Plus, as the physical demands of the job take their toll on the bodies of the baby boomers, more and more will move into retirement, further adding to the staffing shortage. The loss of one good employee has a major impact on business when the service team likely only includes five to 10 technicians.
All of these factors make obtaining top talent within the water treatment industry just as much a marketing conversation as it is a human resources one. Companies need to approach recruitment and hiring the way they would promote any product or service: with a marketing-first mindset. Whether it’s ongoing promotion efforts or differentiating yourself with competitive offers, a change in mindset will help companies secure the next generation of water treatment talent.

Proactive practices paired with a marketing mindset
In the same way you can’t wait for business to slow down to start promoting your products or services, you can’t wait until there is an open position to start recruiting new employees. It’s an ongoing process that never really ends. Take a look at how major corporations approach recruitment and you’ll notice they use tactics small businesses are familiar with from a marketing standpoint.
Organizations that share a consistent recruitment message and continually promote not only positions, but also their brand and company, will be ahead of the competition when it comes time to fill an open role. By regularly looking for and accepting applications and resumes from qualified candidates, your dealership will be equipped with a pool of candidates who are ready and willing to work. This way, when the opportunity to hire arises, you already have names in mind.
Water treatment dealers should also think about what tactics are being used to market their business and apply these strategies to recruitment efforts. You likely wouldn’t solely rely on a newspaper ad or a sign outside your facility to generate new business, so why trust these methods when looking for top talent? Social media posts, sharing company culture and current opportunities are a great way to reach a younger audience. Businesses looking to fill a position with immediate need should consider paid social media ads that allow targeting to make sure the message finds the right eyes. Similarly, a career page on the dealership’s website should be up to date and showcase current opportunities, benefits available to employees and provide insight to the company’s culture.

Beyond the basics: differentiating with a better benefits package
With the current labor shortage, recruitment within the trade industries has become extremely competitive. A way for water treatment companies to differentiate themselves from the competition is to position their dealership as a place that provides value to employees beyond wages. Building a benefits package that reflects employees’ needs is a valuable tool not only in recruitment, but also for retention. Far too often, we see technicians leaving and joining another operation for the slightest of pay increases. Why does this happen? They don’t see value in the organization, don’t get a sense of culture or don’t see room to grow. All of this combined can lead to a lack of employee loyalty.
In addition to setting your products and services apart from the competition, one also needs to set your company apart when creating a benefits package. Dealers must take a holistic look at what they are providing to their staff. What programs do you currently offer? What benefits would be most meaningful to your current employees? Are there options that your competitors offer that you don’t? While things such as medical, vision and dental coverage, a 401k or vacation time are considered standard in other industries, they are often seen as a luxury to members of the trades-based workforce.
Younger professionals may also value the opportunity to learn new skills or continue their education. The nature of water treatment dealerships might mean that you don’t have the advancement opportunities that some candidates may be searching for, but providing access for them to grow their knowledge can be just as valuable. Many water treatment system manufacturers offer education programs that are readily available to dealers and service technicians. Organizations like The Water Quality Association also offer certifications that are highly regarded within the industry and offer employees added credibility. Business owners should think outside the box of what benefits have traditionally entailed. I recently visited one of our dealers and learned they provide their employees with a home-cooked breakfast each morning. This has created a team of not only dedicated workers but brand advocates who can assist in the recruitment process.

Sourcing top talent: networking for success
Unfortunately, there isn’t a college dedicated to water treatment and we have yet to see a technical school degree focused solely on this industry. So, where should you be looking for top talent? Networking isn’t just beneficial to your business efforts, it can also have an impact of recruitment. Despite the lack of opportunities to specialize in water treatment, technical colleges and trade schools are a great source of mechanically inclined talent. Students specializing in areas like plumbing or electrical will have great background knowledge that will aid them as they transition into a water treatment role. Consider partnering with these programs for speaking events or other classroom engagement opportunities to help get face-time with current students. During these networking opportunities, dealers can showcase their company as an ideal place to work with opportunity for growth and development.
Similarly, partnering with local high schools gives water treatment professionals both a platform to promote the importance of the industry as well a chance to talk with future job seekers. While these potential recruits may not have developed technical skills, they may demonstrate a genuine interest in the career path or the science aspect behind it. Often, those who are willing to learn, motivated to work hard and not afraid to get a little grease on their hands, will make a great addition to the team, regardless of previous experience. Another great way to source new talent is through your existing team. I always recommend that dealers work with current employees to generate a list of potential recruits when there are openings within the company. Owners and managers should consider the adoption of a referral program. Employees who refer someone who is hired and remains with the company for a set amount of time might receive a monetary perk or additional paid time off. This creates an incentive for employees to share only qualified candidates they believe will be a strong and reliable fit.

Setting the standard for the future
Because so many dealerships are small, locally run businesses with fewer employees, the cultural fit of team members should be a top consideration during the hiring process. Finding employees who align with your organization’s values isn’t always easy, however, it is a very important part of the process. Each employee reflects directly on your brand, making it essential for due diligence when hiring new employees. Despite being a small business, water treatment dealers need to treat the hiring process the same way a major corporation would. Requesting references, conducting formal interviews, requiring resumes and running background checks all show applicants that your company takes the hiring process seriously. Not only does this reinforce the legitimacy of your organization, but it will also help weed out some candidates who aren’t as committed to the position.

A thorough hiring process also helps dealers battle the misconception that water treatment is just a job rather than a viable profession with a legitimate career path. The industry offers room to learn, develop, grow and provide a valuable and important service to the local community. The water treatment organizations that take a step out of their comfort zones and implement new ideas in recruitment create more than a better team, they create a better business.

About the author
Erik Koglin serves at the CCWG Field Manager for Water Right, Inc. He can be reached via email at [email protected]


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